Virtual badges earned online no replacement for diploma

By Lauryn Smith

Playing your favorite online games could potentially enhance your education and job prospects. A new trend in higher education has students and recent grads earning online badges as credentials or achievements that they can list on their resume. While this could be a fun and innovative way to learn certain skills, these badges should not replace traditional coursework.

Using virtual badges as trophies or symbols of accomplishment poses a problem because students could potentially cheat. Khan Academy, a free online education provider, gives out “Great Listener” badges to students who watch 30 minutes of lecture videos from its site. Anyone could simply press “play” and go make a burrito or whatever else. Just because students watch a video or take a quiz doesn’t mean they are better candidates for a job.

Earning online badges takes away from the experience of learning in a classroom with peers, which is especially important in the college setting. Exchanging ideas with peers teaches students how to positively handle and respond to constructive criticism. Receiving feedback can help inspire a different way of thinking. A smooth transition into the professional world is part of college, and it is classroom experience that helps students build essential skills for the working world.

Virtual badges could be an excellent learning supplement, especially for computer-based degrees like graphic design. The idea is a form of “gamification,” or applying game-like elements to something to make it more fun. While gamification is a great way to get students to learn boring subjects, it doesn’t replace the hands-on experience some majors, like graphic design, require.

But online badges could become resume commodities. Keeping track of different badges for different skills would be exhausting. One diploma already speaks volumes about specific skills learned in college, such as discipline.

Education should be widely available but not at the expense of quality. Massachusetts Institute of Technology is experimenting with its own self-study program that will let anyone take online MIT classes as long as they pay a “small fee,” according to the university. Students who earn badges on should understand it is no replacement for the real deal.

For now, virtual badges should be used for some skills, but they shouldn’t replace a full-fledged college experience.